Depending on where you live, national averages can seem like a steal. Rene Artale’s four-bedroom house near Newcastle, in Westchester County, N.Y., suffered some damage during a storm last winter. A tree fell in the yard, damaging her fence, arbor and retaining wall. And heavy snow caused her roof to leak. The repair bills just kept piling up. Removing the tree, $3,800. Repairing the wall, $4,000. Fixing the roof, $3,800. Fixing the picket fence, $2,800. “It’s obscene,” Ms. Artale, 47, said.

So last year, Mr. Hark and Mr. Larivee, who works in digital marketing, sold their condo and moved to a four-bedroom house, also in West Orange. They now have to mow their lawn and shovel their driveway when it snows, but when they had a drainage problem in the backyard, they got to choose their contractor and schedule the job based on when it made the most financial sense for them.


A garbage disposal is a bit scary when it’s turned on and the blades are noisily chopping up kitchen waste. But, if your disposal gets stinky, fear not. It’s easy to clean out the gunk and get rid of the smell. If the splash guard needs replacing, you can do that in 20 minutes! If you need to replace the entire disposal you can replace it yourself.
How to DIY it: Clean up any rough edges around the hole, then stick the patch onto the wall over the hole (left). Using the taping knife, spread a layer of joint compound over it and let it dry overnight. Then spread a wider second coat, feathering out the compound on all sides to make the patch blend in. Let it dry, then apply one more coat extending 8 to 12 inches beyond the patch in 
all directions. After the final coat dries, sand the area with a sanding sponge (a foam block wrapped in sand­paper) until it feels smooth and even. Prime, and then paint.

While you’re at it: If you don’t have a programmable thermostat, consider getting one. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, an Energy Star–rated model can save you about $180 in heating and cooling costs each year. You can buy one for about $40 and install it yourself. It’s a relatively easy job; no rewiring required. On the other hand, these are home improvement projects you should never, ever DIY.


How well do the franchise chains perform? One Wall Street Journal reporting team did an informal assessment by hiring handymen all over the United States and asking them to fix a wide range of problems, from a relatively routine leaky faucet to a sticky door.[12] The reporter concluded that "with few licensing requirements and standards for the industry, prices are all over the board."[12] One quote was ten times as large as another.[12] Further, the reporter concluded "A big corporate name is no guarantee of quality or speedy service."[12] One corporate firm took three weeks to fix a stuck door.[12] Service varied from spotty to good, with complaints about unreturned phone calls, service people standing on dining room chairs, leaving holes between wood planking, but liked getting multiple jobs done instead of just one.[12] Customers liked handymen wearing hospital booties (to avoid tracking dirt in houses).[12] The reporter chronicled one experience with repairing a water-damaged ceiling. A franchise firm fixed it for $1,530; a second (non-franchise local handyman) fixed a similar ceiling for $125.[12] The reporter preferred the second worker, despite the fact that he "doesn't have a fancy van -- or carry proof of insurance".[12] Tips for selecting a good handyman include: ask questions, get written estimates on company stationery, make sure handymen guarantee their work, pay with credit cards or checks because this provides an additional record of each transaction, check references and licenses,[20] review feedback about the contractors from Internet sites. To find a competent worker, one can seek referrals from local sources such as a school or church or office park, to see if a staff handyman does projects on the side, as well as ask friends for referrals; a general contractor might have workers who do projects on the side as well.[20] Further, one can try out a new handyman with easy projects such as cleaning gutters to see how well they perform.[20]

Other competitors include online referral services.[10] In addition, some large home centers offer installation services for products such as cabinets and carpet installation.[16] Sometimes homeowners contact a professional service after trying, but failing, to do repair work themselves; in one instance, a Minneapolis homeowner attempted a project but called a technician to finish the project, and the overall cost was substantial.[19]

Other competitors include online referral services.[10] In addition, some large home centers offer installation services for products such as cabinets and carpet installation.[16] Sometimes homeowners contact a professional service after trying, but failing, to do repair work themselves; in one instance, a Minneapolis homeowner attempted a project but called a technician to finish the project, and the overall cost was substantial.[19]
Instead of forking over $5,000-10,000 to replace all of your old windows with brand new ones, consider repairing old windows yourself. With a few hundred dollars in supplies (sand paper, paint, window glaze, etc.), you’ll be prepared to reglaze every window in your house. Though it can be a tad time consuming, you can prioritize the project by room, removing windows one by one to paint, reglaze, and, if necessary, replace any cracked glass. Get started glazing your windows here.
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